“And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name'” (Exodus 33:15-17, ESV).
The backstory of these verses is that while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments and other instructions from God, at the base of the mountain the Israelites had fashioned a golden calf to worship as their god, thinking Moses had abandoned them.
When Moses came down from the mountain he was so enraged that he threw down the Ten Commandment tablets and smashed them. Futhermore, God was ready to rid Himself of the Israelites. He told Moses to go ahead and lead the people to the promised land but He would no longer accompany them with His presence. Instead, God would send an angel to lead Moses and the Israelites into the land.
Moses was not satisfied with that plan and in these verses Moses implored God not to abandon His people. Moses begged God to reconsider and to go with him and the people of Israel to the promised land.
Moses declares that it is only God’s abiding presence with the Israelites that makes them distinct from all other people on the earth!
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:8-12, NIV).
In a recent discussion in Sunday School our class got off the lesson and into a discussion of “forgiveness.” Of course, we generally concluded that it is much easier to forgive than to forget.
You may have even said that sometime in your life about somebody who has wronged you, “I can forgive them but I can’t forget it.”
When you analyze what you are saying in terms of how God transacts forgiveness, you soon realize that “forgetness” is an integral part of forgiveness. It you don’t forget, then you probably haven’t forgiven.
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.'” (Luke 22:34, NIV).
At the Last Supper Jesus warned His disciples that He was going to be taken into custody and killed and that some of His followers would lose faith in Him. Impetuous Peter declared to Jesus that He would never be disloyal.
Then Jesus notified Peter that a few hours in the future–before the day was over–he would deny being a follower of Jesus not just once but three times!
You know the rest of the story. Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s future happened just as Jesus foretold.
What’s significant about this story for this discussion is that it reveals to us something very important about the character or nature of God: God knows the future!
If God knows what would happen six hours in the future, then why wouldn’t He know what will happen six days or six months or six years or even 6,000 years in the future?
“As I looked at the creatures, suddenly there was a wheel on the earth corresponding to all four faces of the creatures. The appearance and composition of the wheels were like sparkling topaz. There was one shape for all four of them, as if one wheel were inside another. When they moved in any of the four directions, they moved without swerving. Their rims were tall and terrifying, because all four of them were filled with eyes all around. When the creatures moved, the wheels moved next to them. Whenever the creatures rose above the earth, the wheels also rose up. Wherever the wind would appear to go, the wind would make them go there too. The wheels rose up beside them, because the spirit of the creatures was in the wheels. When they moved, the wheels moved; when they stood still, the wheels stood still; and when they rose above the earth, the wheels rose up along with them, because the spirit of the creatures was in the wheels” (Ezekiel 1:15-21, CEB).
What if God threw open the gates of heaven and let you see what He was doing. How would you describe it? The words or analogies you would use to describe it would be limited by your own personal experiences and understanding. Maybe you would use unusual descriptions of what you’re familiar with to describe what you’re not familiar with.
And, could you take it all in at once? Perhaps you would focus on a few aspects of the scene that stand out to you the most.
That’s what happened to the prophet Ezekiel when he got a glimpse of what God was doing. His description is rather perplexing. It almost seems like he’s describing a UFO sighting or a scene from a Star Wars movie with ancient terminology!
Ezekiel saw something that looked like a tornado or whirlwind moving closer to him. As the storm moved closer he was able to observe more precise details and features of what he saw.
“Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:4-5, NIV).
A question I ask myself when I read a Bible verse or passage is: “What do these verses tell me about what God is like?” While no verses in the Bible contain a complete description of God, many verses and statements in the Bible reveal character traits of God.
This jubilant psalm of praise reveals an interesting attribute of God’s personality:
God’s anger is momentary but His mercy is eternal!
What if it was the other way around–God’s anger is forever and His mercy is momentary? The reason I ask is because that’s often what we think. We think God is angry with the human race and the world He created and occasionally He gets over it and blesses us and then quickly reverts to His anger mode.
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14, NIV).
Jesus told a story that contrasted the prayer offered by a Pharisee with the prayer of a tax collector. In this story the Pharisee portrays a good and moral person–a religious person–and the tax collector portrays an immoral and sinful person.
While their behavior is similar–praying at the temple–their words and the attitudes expressed by their prayers are quite different. The Pharisee is absolutely certain of his righteousness while the tax collector is obviously doubtful of his.
Like many of Jesus’ parables the meaning is revealed as an unexpected truth, a contradiction of commonly-held beliefs; the interpretation is in the inverse! In God’s Kingdom (in contrast to the way things are in this present world) those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:33-35, ESV).
John the Baptist sent some of his disciples to Jesus to find out if He was the Messiah. When they asked if He was the Messiah, Jesus did not answer them explicitly. Rather, He sent them back to John with this message: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:22-23, ESV).
But Jesus explicitly identified John as the one whom the prophet Malachi described as the messenger who would prepare the way when the day of the Lord comes. Although this explanation of John’s ministry satisfied many of the people in the crowd of people following Jesus who were also John’s disciples, the Pharisees and scribes rejected His testimony about John because they didn’t believe John the Baptist was sent by God.
Then Jesus points out that God’s purpose is accomplished in multiple ways: John’s abstemious method and Jesus’ intemperate style.
Jesus and John didn’t try to justify their own behavior. They didn’t behave a certain way because it’s the “right” way.